Rajapaksa named leader of Opposition

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was on Tuesday named the Leader of Opposition in the Sri Lankan Parliament, but rival lawmakers contested his eligibility to hold the position. The Speaker has said that he would consider the objections and give a ruling on Friday. Number of MPs Days after he stepped down from the office of the Prime Minister that he held for nearly two months, Mr. Rajapaksa demanded that he be made Opposition leader, since his political grouping had the largest number of Opposition MPs. He sought to replace Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R. Sampanthan. However, other lawmakers challenged the move on two grounds. They asked if Mr. Rajapaksa, staking his claim from the Maithripala Sirisena-led United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), could do so after becoming a member of a new party formed by his supporters. Since he no longer belonged to the party through which he was elected to Parliament, he was at the risk of losing his position as MP, the rival MPs maintained, citing a constitutional provision on the matter. Moreover, though the President’s party quit the then ruling coalition on October 26, he continues to remain head of government, with three Cabinet portfolios. “How can his party, technically in government, also be in Opposition?” TNA legislator M.A. Sumanthiran argued in Parliament. The legislature on Tuesday convened for the first time after ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was reinstated in the office seven weeks after Mr. Sirisena had suddenly sacked him, appointing Mr. Rajapaksa instead. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), an Opposition party that earlier vociferously challenged Mr. Rakapaksa’s disputed appointment as PM, moved a motion to abolish Executive Presidency, which, its MPs said, was the major cause for the political turmoil that shook Sri Lanka recently. In a remarkable volte-face, Mr. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) — which introduced the system in 1978 with President J.R. Jayewardene — said it would support the motion. Other minority parties in the UNP-led front, as well as the Opposition TNA, pledged their support for the move. However, in addition to support from a two-thirds majority, such a move would warrant a referendum. Constitutional reform Making a case for broader constitutional reform, including the abolition of executive presidency, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader and senior MP Rauff Hakeem said the three leaders — Mr. Sirisena, Mr. Wickremesinhe and Mr. Rajapaksa — were interested in their own political future. “The Constitution cannot be designed according to their whims,” he told Parliament.

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